“That’s a gibbon,” said Brian Hole and I checked over my shoulder for any arboreal apes that might be sloping past. Perhaps this was sarcasm on my part, or the effect of a Brian Hole conversation on my faculties, which were right now straining his words for sense like cottage cheese through a sieve.
“It is?” I asked. “Is it?” I said. “Well,” I added, “I hadn’t seen it that way, and that’s a fact.”
That was, indeed, a fact. Difficult though it was for me to find any certainties around Brian Hole.
“Oh, yeah, it’s a total gibbon,” Brian said, meaning ‘given’ and scratching his sunburnt bald spot with a heavily tattooed arm. The only word I could make out in the mass of blue curlicues was “Anchovy”. No doubt he’d thought he was asking for anarchy.
Not for the first time, I held back the snigger. Not for the first time, he failed to notice. Because he was, as ever, keen to tell me everything in that head of his. Every single time I’d step out of the house, there he’d be, in his tiny front garden with its fifteen foot flagpole – seriously – with its flaccid Union flag, and he’d be tending to the baby grave. That was what I had taken to calling the tiny patch of ground at the base of the flagpole. He’d had the grass taken up, had it replaced with those coloured stones you see in graveyards, and then he’d got himself a slate memorial vase, placed it dead centre, and stuck daffodils in it. And this was a garden that required tending eight hours a day, every day.
On the basis of such evidence, there was clearly nothing whatsoever in Brian’s head. But it didn’t stop him making a special effort for me every time I ventured outside. When I had to. When I believed it might make some kind of difference.
“We’ll be better once we’re out, absolutely,” Brian continued. “350 mil more for the NHS, mate. We won’t need to be at Europe’s beckon call anymore.”
Right enough, I thought. In as much as whatever was right in this conversation had been given a heavy wrench to the perpendicular and was now face down on the ground and pleading for its lawyer.
I didn’t do politics. Not since the move, anyway.
“We won’t be at their beck and call,” I said, feeling guilty at the correction but knowing that he would still hear it the way he heard everything.
“Like hell we won’t,” Brian said. “It’ll be good to see some of those MEPs get their upcommence.”
“Upcommence, right,” I said.
“It’s mind-bottling, the amount of money we’ve wasted on these shirkers,” Brian said.
I shuffled my feet, bit my lip, watched his flag flapping feebly in the breeze.
“And yet they snob us…”
Snub, said my head, idly.
“…looking after theirselves at our expense every time.”
Brian continued his anti-EU not-really-a-rant and I watched the flag fail to fly and I noticed how wilted Brian’s daffodils were and I wondered what he thought he’d been buying when he’d bought the urn.
I should have expected the Lilt.
This went back a bit, to not long after I’d moved into the little corner house opposite his little corner house.
You simply couldn’t imagine a stupider sight than a flagpole that height standing outside a house that small.
Brian had been out in his garden, tending the baby grave, and I’d been trying to smuggle myself past. With no back door to the house, and with my front door directly facing his, there wasn’t, I’d quickly discovered, any easy way to escape his attention. And, for some reason, he’d offered me the Lilt.
“Look like you need it,” he’d said, offering the can. And then he’d launched into how the government said you needed your “five a day” and how there were more than five fruits in a can of Lilt and so he was quids in. And, for that, and for the loan of his half-drunk can, complete with spit, I’d had to be thankful.
He offered it to me now. Said something about me looking a bit peaky and then, as I faux gulped, said that he’d not seen me in a while.
“If you ever need to talk about anything,” Brian Hole offered.
This from the man who thought “from the get go” was “from the gecko”. This from the man who thought it was “bowl in a china shop”, not “bull in a china shop”. This from the man who I doubted had ever read a book in this life and so, no, no, there was nothing we could talk about because I couldn’t bring myself down to his level. Even though I was already down at his level because I was damn well living here now – opposite him in this poxy street as a persistent reminder of everything that had gone wrong and, therefore, Must Not Be Talked About.
But what did Brian Hole know? Nothing. Less than nothing. Out the other side of nothing and on some way into the distance.
If I ever needed to talk about anything it wouldn’t be to him.
“I’m fine,” I told him, handing him back the fruit concoction and considering where I’d head today. The Enclosure? The Water? Somewhere for my thoughts and mine alone, unpolluted by the nonsense.
“’course you are,” said Brian Hole, smiling as he fixed me with eyes that knew more than I had given him credit for. “That’s what we’ve got to be, ain’t it, when we come out the other side? When we’ve got to start again. Gotta be fine. What else is there?”
I paused over the words, considered the flag that had no chance of ever picking up a breeze. Brian turned to his wilted daffodils.
Tending them so very delicately, I noticed. “Yeah,” I said, “you’re right enough.” And, by God, he was. “That is a gibbon.”
Mike Hickman (@MikeHic13940507) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and the Trouvaille Review.